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California labor officials going after employer wage thieves

Some workers are caught between a rock and a hard place with Los Angeles employers. Employers know paychecks are necessities for most employees. Some companies try to take advantage of that dependency by stealing wages from the people who work for them.

According to the National Consumers League, California employers have lots of ways to keep employees from receiving fair wages. One way is misclassification -- treating workers like employees while paying them as if they were self-employed. By classifying a worker as an independent contractor, a business doesn't have to adhere to wage minimums, provide benefits or workers' compensation coverage and can skip payroll taxes.

Some employers are guilty of a failure to pay overtime for employees protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act, for workloads over 40 hours a week. Other companies order workers to perform duties off the clock, without compensating them for the extra work. The people with the lowest wages are the most vulnerable to getting cheated.

The California Labor Commission is focusing on wage theft with a campaign to encourage workers to report violators. State officials penalize companies that commit wage theft by fining them; wage violations in 2012 cost California employers $51 million. The state campaign is targeted in areas where low-wage employees are concentrated like Fresno, Sacramento and San Diego.

The state found a restaurant owner underpaid college students by labeling them as trainees. Another restaurant hired five dozen workers but only claimed to have 12. Violations also were discovered among farmers who denied workers minimum wages and companies where employees worked through meal breaks.

Even with the state's encouragement to turn in wage thieves, some employees don't act. The interruption of a paycheck is a strong motivator to remain quiet. Some employees think "What if a boss finds out and decides to seek revenge?" - as attorneys well know, employment laws protect workers from retaliation, too.

Source:  The Fresno Bee, "State launches crackdown on wage theft" Robert Rodriguez, May. 06, 2014

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